An old cliche takes on new modern meaning as bed bugs proliferate around the world
Once upon a time, “sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” was an adorable bedtime rhyme. But in recent years, the characters in this verse have taken on a whole new persona, thanks to their resurgence in hotels, hostels, inns, cruise ships, movie theatres and concert halls, as well as college dorms, hospitals, apartments and other multi-family dwellings. The once-nearly eradicated bed bug has made a whopping comeback and its prevalence is not only affecting how hotels do business, it’s also taking a bite out of travellers.
Just ask Katharine Stanbridge of Oakville, ONT., who backpacked through Europe and australia last year.
Over the 10-month span of her travels, she experienced three separate, irritating cases of bed bug bites while staying at various accommodations. The first episode left her with more than 100 bites, and little assurance it wouldn’t happen again.
It did, twice, on two different continents, despite precautions to prevent further bouts. Stanbridge’s encounter with the pesty bed bugs is a testament to their pervasiveness across the world. It also explains a trend that has allowed them to spread, explains Sean Rollo, an entomologist and manager of Orkin Pest Control services in Burnaby, B.C.
“In the last 10 to 15 years, budget travel has become a reality. So back-packing in Australia and Europe is far cheaper.” Global travel allows people to move from place to place and use spaces accessed by many visitors, giving bed bugs a ride on luggage and clothing. Added to that, their resistance to pesticides and insecticides over the years also makes them especially difficult to eradicate. Because the bugs feed on blood, not dirt or debris, they can be found in luxury or budget properties, spotless or dirty.
Their oval, flat bodies, which are between four and 10 mm long, allow them to easily hide in mattresses, upholstered chairs and sofas, baseboards, crevices in head- boards, night tables and dressers, electrical outlets, or even under wallpaper—anywhere that’s close to a warm-blooded host that they can feed off of at night and that will allow them to breed undisturbed.
While bed bugs don’t pose a major health risk, nor are they carriers of blood-borne diseases, their bites can cause allergic reactions.
Most bites, which look and itch like mosquito bites and last for up to two weeks, vary from person to person. they typically go away by themselves, but you may need your doctor to prescribe an antihistamine to relieve the itching.
If you suspect you have bed bugs, check the seams and edges of the mattress and box spring for the bugs (translucent yellow as juveniles and dark red as adults), as well as dried blood dots and fecal matter. Any evidence should be reported to a property manager immediately, says Rollo.
Stanbridge took swift action as soon as she realized she had been bitten by bed bugs, but she was met with resistance. “[the property owner] didn’t seem to care. He went into my room with two cans of bug spray and tried spraying them with a towel over his head. He even sprayed the bathroom, with my toothbrush still in it, and in the end, when it obviously didn’t work, he refused to refund me.” Responses by managers at other properties were more positive and proactive, even conciliatory, she says. That’s been Rollo’s experience in his line of work. “A vast majority of hotels have protocols for bed bugs,” he explains. “They’re training their housekeepers, have pest control companies that do regular checks, are educating staff…they want to uphold their reputations so they don’t want clientele to be exposed to this.”
Overall, says Rollo, don’t panic if you’ve come into contact with the bugs. They aren’t fatal and, he says, “The chances of bringing them home are slim if you follow a few precautions.”
How to Avoid Bed Bugs
- Do your homework. Research travel websites for property reviews. Which hotels/hostels/inns had repeated complaints and how were they resolved?
- Inspect your room. Examine beds, sofas and furniture. Remove bedding, mattress covers and headboard, if possible. Move the bed away from walls.
- Store luggage on a stand. Keep luggage and dirty clothes off the bed and floor, where bed bugs can be lurking. Don’t unpack your clothes and place them in drawers.
- Report any sign of bed bugs to property management. The hotel needs to know so they can avoid the problem for future guests.
- Place all clothing in a sealed plastic bag when leaving the hotel.
- When you get home, unpack out-side. Leave luggage in the garage, remove the clothes you’re wearing, wash all clothing in your luggage in hot water and dry on hot settings for at least 20 minutes. even dry clean-only clothing can go in the dryer as long as there is no moisture.
- Vacuum luggage and/or steam-clean luggage and laptop bag. You might need the help of a pest control company, which typically uses heat chambers or a heating device, as well as other cold technologies like cryonite, to treat bags or luggage.